How Zen Ended in America, Part 2: Looking for Gold

Of course I want to get beyond stony critique, to veins of reassuring, golden insight. But first you have to get the lay of the land, and analyze the nature of the mountain, inside and out. Smash some rocks. I take a walk most days on some nearby trails which run along (in some cases) 300 year old irrigation ditches, often recording discourses on my iPhone that I never listen to after, but find a compelling way to engage Logos: God’s wisdom through venting of the literal word. Walking and talking. A lot to say about that, but I’ll save it, and press on.

I was thinking (and talking to myself) today about dilemmas, having found myself in several lately. Di-Lemma: two sides. There’s a concept in both ancient Greek philosophy (Aristotle, I think) and Buddhism (Nagarjuna, I think) of the Tetra-Lemma – looking at a proposition from four angles: as true, as false, as neither true nor false, or both true and false. I actually first learned of this idea many years ago in a little book by one of America’s first Zen fanatics, artist/eccentric Paul Reps. He related visiting a Japanese primary school – his books are full of ink paintings, poems, and short anecdotal tales about his travels around the world seeking simple goodness and wisdom. The school had the children use a square pillow with sides marked with these positions as a physical aid to internalize this logical/analytical system. Sounds nifty, right?

Paul Reps

We recognize that black-and-white, binary thinking, can get us into trouble, potentially giving rise to fundamentalisms at every dialectical juncture: relational, political, religious, aesthetic, philosophical, sexual. However, some things are black or white. Some things are true, and some are false. In a pressing current example, the life of each human being on earth depends on there actually being only two genders; exceedingly rare exceptions merely prove nature’s golden rule, one’s feelings/psychological disorders notwithstanding (respectfully). The corporate-globalist-left’s systemic and sustained attack on this baseline reality tells us plenty. Recognizing and mapping watersheds may save your life. All the water may indeed end up in the sea, but how it gets there may mean the difference between genocide and civil society. I honestly think these points might best be made in comedy – treacle to help bitter medicine go down. But I’m not a comedian (I don’t know what I am) so I’m going to continue to plod my way through these ideas, and just lay out how I’m finding myself thinking about these things.

A comedian might point out how women tend to be more emotional, erratic, bad drivers, or foolish politically, for instance, and have most of the audience laughing in the recognition of some general truth. Of course such characterizations are inherently unfair, but they must be true statistically-beyond-chance or it wouldn’t result in those involuntary communal chuckles. Stereotypes, like jokes, always contain some truth, if they stick, and/or generate laughs. Actual comedians are like artist-scientists honing in on the seams in culture and ideologies, finding the places where consensus or self-identification is strong or weak and doing verbal tai chi to massage, test, shift, and topple. Like cultural vermin (flies, vultures, possums, coyotes) they eat the dead meat and keep the psycho-cultural ecosystem healthy and tuned up. They also underscore dialectics, oppositions, di-lemmas. As tricksters, they may turn on a dime and attack the ground they just shifted you to. But you probably asked or even paid for it.

Time was, as the stories go anyway “Zen Masters” did this too. It’s little evident today. When all the Zen Masters invest their collective psychic/ideological mass into an absolutely humorless, historically, politically, and philosophically untenable, utterly one-sided position, they have doomed themselves, and I believe at this point, the whole religion as a viable part of the culture. I will give them one thing: there is no church schism. They are in lock step. I recognized this suddenly, so got the hell out.

What is this dialectic they’ve failed to navigate in harmony with actual reality? That’s the real question. You could get caught here with tetralemma, trapped in endless cycles of ratiocination, losing whole forests for their trees. Or, you could allow Logos to operate, and guide you through – or at least further along the trail. The Buddha didn’t say you should understand completely before acting rightly, and Jesus didn’t say being well liked was the highest value. What the Soto Zen Buddhist Association/unified American Buddhist establishment has done is pick a side, opposed to Logos, which is to say sanity; they’ve chosen chaos over natural order, destruction over Tao. They take advantage of most people’s fair mindedness, tolerance, and frankly ignorance to manipulate and brainwash them. They traffic lies and call it inviolate spiritual truth. It’s just so damn sneaky, it drives me crazy. Avowed leftists do tend to be quite sneaky, mean-spirited, neurotic people: the further to the left, the more sneaky, mean, and crazy, like a natural law. Whether that is caused by genetic nature or flawed nurture is a complex problem. But it’s born out in science: a dozen studies have shown lefties are objectively less happy, less charitable, less tolerant, less prosperous, and less kind than religious conservatives.

Here’s a personal example (I’ve racked up so many, I should write a book. “Sideswiped by Leftists”?): I started a small Zen sitting group with another guy. Basically my teacher ordered me to, I was game, and it seemed like a meaningful, worthy challenge. This guy had started and ended a group years earlier in the town where I’d moved. Turned out he was a nice enough fellow, and interested in getting back into it. I was relieved to not have to do this alone, which sounded like a total drag. I have a deep aversion to gurus, so it felt like a way to share that burden, split or deflect authority so that it was less one pointed. Plus, neither of us were “transmitted” yet, so our respective teachers became titular heads of the thing, hopefully lending some kind of legitimacy, if little practical guidance (and in the end, mostly headaches).

Things went fine for a few months; then this woman started showing up named Hilary (of course she was). A real piece of work. I look back and I can shorthand it, but it wasn’t so clear then. The very first time she came, she boldly announced to me afterwards that she was starting a study group under our auspices. I said, uh, thanks. Why not try coming for awhile and lets see how it goes? In retrospect, I was not as alarmed as I should’ve been. She continued to consistently be rude, self-centered, bossy, messy, controlling, tardy, and it eventually turned out, an honest to goodness sociopath. I felt increasingly dubious when I’d see her, which wasn’t often thankfully, because she didn’t come regularly – but always tried to run the show when she did.

A year goes by and I get an email from her on Christmas of all days, essentially a formal list of demands. I instantly read it correctly for what it was: a coup attempt. I only learned over following weeks she’d been peeling people off for months and meeting in secret, plying folks with weed and wine (seriously!) and urging on them their collective obligation to join her in “overthrowing the patriarchy,” which practically-speaking was just me. She of course was happy to assume control, and proposed herself as the new leader. Just insane; she’d only started practicing Zen with us, and was a refugee from a dozen other Buddhist groups she’d surely alienated. Partner-guy had retired months earlier after the birth of his second kid (he was only involved about 10% of the total time of the group, it turned out in the end). I came to find out later this childless, angry crone had also been calling him and working on his weak psychological seams – sociopaths have an intuitive deviousness that you can hardly even believe. It can feel almost demonic its so invasive, and hard for healthy people to anticipate (nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition). She got a couple other childless, post-menopausal feminists to join her crusade – and one weak-willed, uptight little fellow who just got twisted in knots by these women and used as the fall guy. Poor bastard. I couldn’t help but recognize some patterns here.

You have to understand that this was just a free sitting group that met once a week in a yoga studio, and sat for an afternoon once a month. I did all this as a service, not asking for or taking a penny (any donations went to guest teachers and the studio). I made no demands, there was no joining, no quitting. Just show up if you want, sit, and be cool. Period. As the be-robed “priest” (for awhile; I stopped with the robes in time) I’d lead a brief, casual discussion of some text (usually Suzuki roshi) after zazen. As often as someone appropriate was available, I asked them to give brief talks, while recognizing that we had to maintain a clear direction focused on Suzuki’s simple emphasis on just sitting.

I had no desire to socialize outside of that context, maintaining and working to insure the practice of good boundaries all around, having seen bad ones decimate other Zen groups. Well, these toxic, co-dependent personalities ruined it for everyone (for a moment; the group quickly rebounded), and it wasn’t just from these conspirators. As this all went down, I came to find that my lapsed partner, his teacher, and my teacher either failed to recognize the problem, address it with any decisiveness, or in a few cases compounded issues by being secretive, manipulable, or woefully unskillful themselves. Gossip swirled; everyone, Zen Masters, novices, and priests alike, acted like a bunch of Housewives from Orange County. A truly pathetic showing that shook my confidence in them, myself, and the practice (which of course was Hilary’s true intent). That they were mostly all culturally Jewish I’m sure is just coincidental. That they were all avowed Marxists or aggressively “progressive” seems less so. I’ll save the story about the pedophile ardent communist who sideswiped me and the group as I was wrapping it up in 2018, and still trolls this site (I just hope he’s on somebody’s watch list, somewhere.) This one teacup tempest illuminates a dozen crucial issues and problems for the tradition in this country that I don’t see Zen leaders doing anything but exacerbating. And I’m like, you want this enough to lie, cheat, and live in hell? Take it. I made a successful stand, in one little bunker. But clearly I lost the war. Luckily, by God’s grace, there are other religions and churches – for the country, and for me.

With 20/20 hindsight, what happened in my sitting group was like the first signs of a storm breaking. It’s been no beach vacation to watch these tides turn into a cultural tsunami, and I know millions of other people have experienced similar awakenings, often tragic, equally comic. It’s already been a tragedy for the culture, as comedy, art, and free speech are systematically assaulted, violence escalates, and no one knows what we’re really in store for. Chickens are coming home to roost: the real costs of the imbalances in academia, the failure to teach reason (or civics) in grade schools much less beyond them, rampant corruption in government, greed and debauchery among the ruling elites, the weakness of religious organizations, and the perversion of the cultural classes all reveal themselves, at once, and corporate technocracy runs amok on its own post-human track.

Which way do we turn? Not into your local Zen, Shambhala, or Mindfulness center, I’d suggest. Still, I see signs of hope, a rise of logos, especially in certain Christian churches, and in a populace waking up despite a constant onslaught of lies.


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